Understanding Motivation to Help Achieve Health and Fitness Goals

September 15, 2023what drives you

What Drives You? – How an understanding of the science of motivation can lead us achieve our health, fitness and well-being goals…and all other goals!

There are two distinct types of motivation

When it comes to motivation, there are two main types: intrinsic and extrinsic. Intrinsic Motivation is when we do something because we find it personally rewarding or fulfilling. Extrinsic Motivation, on the other hand, involves doing something in order to receive external reward or to avoid something we don’t want or scares us.

At first glance, one might think that Extrinsic Motivation is the more powerful of the two. After all, who doesn't like receiving a reward or feel pleased when avoiding things which feel threatening? However, research has shown that Intrinsic Motivation is actually much more effective in driving long-term commitment and achievement.

...'receiving a bonus at work for meeting a sales target may give you a temporary boost in motivation, but it may not be enough to keep you motivated for the rest of the year'

Think of it this way: when we are intrinsically motivated, we are driven by our own personal desires and passions. We find joy in the process itself, rather than just the end result. This means that we are more likely to stick with something, even when faced with challenges or setbacks.

‘Intrinsic Motivation is actually much more effective in driving long term commitment and achievement’

In contrast, Extrinsic Motivation relies on external factors and rewards. While these can provide short-term motivation, they may not be enough to sustain long-term commitment and effort. For example, receiving a bonus at work for meeting a sales target may give you a temporary boost in motivation, but it may not be enough to keep you motivated for the rest of the year.

Considering the power of Intrinsic Motivation in relation to health, exercise and well-being

So how does this relate to exercise and diet? Well, if we are intrinsically motivated to take care of our bodies and improve our health, we are more likely to make sustainable changes. We will choose nourishing and nutritious foods over junk food, not only because we are trying to win a competition or avoid gaining body fat, but because we genuinely enjoy the taste and how it makes us feel.

Similarly, when it comes to exercise, Intrinsic Motivation means finding activities that bring us joy, satisfaction and make us feel good. This could be anything from playing sports with friends to hiking in nature to attending dance classes. When we find pleasure in the process, we are more likely to stick with it and make it a regular part of our lives.

On the other hand, relying on Extrinsic Motivation for exercise and diet can lead to unsustainable habits. We may push ourselves too hard at the gym or restrict our food intake to an unhealthy level in order to achieve a certain body image or meet societal standards. This can ultimately lead to burnout, injury, and even disordered eating.

It's important to note that both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation can coexist and complement each other. For example, we may initially start exercising because we want to look a certain way (Extrinsic Motivation), but as we continue to do it regularly and see the positive effects on our mental and physical health, we are much more likely to develop a genuine enjoyment for it (Intrinsic Motivation).


Ultimately, the key to sustainable motivation for exercise and diet is finding a balance between intrinsic and extrinsic factors. We should focus on taking care of our bodies because it makes us feel good, rather than solely trying to achieve external goals or meet societal expectations.

By prioritizing our overall well-being and finding pleasure in our healthy habits, we can create long-lasting and fulfilling changes in our lives. So let's shift our mindset from external validation to internal satisfaction and make exercise and healthy eating, part of our daily habits and a celebration of self-care and self-love.

Remember, it's not just about the end goal or the numbers on the scale, but rather finding joy in the journey towards a healthier lifestyle. The key to sustainable health, fitness and well-being is to make exercise and healthy nutrition a regular part of our lives, not just a temporary temporary fix or fad.

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